Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chicago Wrap-Up: The food Edition

My work event in Chicago finished last Sunday, so I thought I'd do a summary and share tidbits about the tasty food I ate during my week in the Windy City.  This will probably be a long post, sorry.  Sit back and relax.  :)   The work event went swimmingly, with only a few hitches here and there, but, for the most part, we kept the problems hidden from the attendees and everyone seemed happy with how things went.  So that was a HUGE relief.  I'll just mainly focus on food (which is definitely why I'm not as trim as I once was).  Does it seem like all I do is eat when I'm in Chicago?  We worked so hard on this trip, it didn't feel that way at all...
Monday, after we arrived 
in Chicago, and before we went to the stained glass museum, we went to lunch at a fun diner called Eleven City Diner.  The hotel doorman recommended it and were we glad he did.  It had a very fun vibe and the food was very tasty.  There were a lot of menu choices, but I finally settled on the turkey melt (you'll notice that I chose lots of meaty cheesy dishes - I was a very bad vegetarian on this trip).  They served it with thousand island dressing on challah bread.  It was delicious, but definitely could've used more sauce.  The kosher pickle, however, was outstanding.  One of my co-workers got a coupon for free ice cream, which we all shared, and it was very nice.  We definitely enjoyed Eleven City Diner and considered going back for breakfast later in the week (which we did). 

After the stained glass museum, we all gathered in the registration office to do some work.  We worked diligently until quite late, then we went to the Irish pub inside the hotel, Kitty O'Shea's, for dinner.  I didn't think I could quite handle an entire fish and chips dinner, but I did think I could probably finish a fish sandwich.  It was delicious!  The batter was crispy and light and had a very good taste.  We also got an appetizer of deep fried cheese curds and deep fried pickles.  Oh so yummy.  Oh so bad for us.  But, hey, we were working hard...

The hotel upgraded us to the executive floor (sweet!), so we had breakfast in the lounge.  This wasn't the most tasty breakfast I've ever had; it was rather boring hotel food.  And there was a kid throwing a tantrum in the middle of the floor, which doesn't make for a very relaxing meal.  We got out of there pretty quickly and went straight to work.  Our Chicago liaison met us in the office to work for a few hours, then she went with us to The Gage for lunch.  We had been to The Gage last time we were in Chicago and really enjoyed it.  And we were definitely happy to go back.  The menu is just chock full of stuff I"d like to try, but once again, the soup of the day caught my attention - it was a chilled curried corn soup, with dried apricots.  Delicious, with a bit of heat in the background.  I paired the soup with a half turkey sandwich.  The sandwich had a horseradish cream on it, which was yummy (and very sinus-clearing), but was also pretty potent.  If I order that sandwich again, I'd probably order it with the sauce on the side.  But, again, The Gage was a terrific place for lunch.  Plus, it's right across the street from The Bean and the Gehry bandshell (as described in my last Chicago post).

We worked hard, again until quite late, and were too tired to go out for dinner, so a couple of us went to Tamarind to get some Thai/Chinese takeout.  It was very tasty, but I forgot to get a photo.  Sorry.  The next morning, we skipped the executive lounge for breakfast and went back to Eleven City Diner.  I had a gorgeous omelet and very nice coffee (some diners' coffee tastes bitter to me, but this one was good).  We wandered around outside for a few minutes before getting back to work - some of those photos are below.

I have several friends from college who live in the Chicago area and one of them happened to be in town Wednesday night, so we met at the hotel and went to the tapas restaurant next door, Mercat a la Planxa.  I've been there before (and posted about it), so I was happy to go back.  We had a delightful dinner of several vegetarian tapas (my friend is a vegetarian, so he was a good influence on me), with this gorgeous dessert of a sweet potato cake, with a cardamom cream cheese espuma and candied pecans.  Good golly, that was delicious.  As was the sangria.  We had a wonderful time catching up, laughing and enjoying each other's company.  It was a terrific way to relax before the next day's work stress.
During the 
conference, I mainly scarfed down hotel food during the few minutes here and there I had to myself.  On Friday night, though, we did a special dinner for the entire staff at Mercat. It was in their private room, with atmospheric mood lighting, which means my photos are terrible.  Any tapas photos you see were stolen from the Mercat website or from a friend's camera.  We did a fixed menu that included pan con tomate, bacon wrapped dates and a mixed green salad with beans and avocado for our first course; garlic shrimp, flatbread with mushrooms, sausage and manchego, and the Spanish omelet for our second course; and paella with chicken and chorizo for our third course, with the addition of a half roast suckling pig.  The dessert was the croquetas de xocolata, or deep fried dark chocolate sitting on a bed of banana marshmallow, swimming in rosemary caramel.  As one of my co-workers said, they're like an orgasm in your mouth.  :)  Needless to say, we had an amazing dinner and everyone had a great time.  The wine was delicious and my co-workers and I shared a lot of laughs.  And wine. 
Saturday night, after the work day 
ended, everyone was exhausted and no one had the energy to make group plans.  After sitting in my room for a few minutes, I decided I wanted to try a Hawaiian restaurant that I had been wanting to try the last few times I was in Chicago.  Since I had been surrounded by people for a week, I snuck out with my Nook and had dinner by myself.  It was lovely.  The cab ride took FOREVER to get there and I was beginning to worry that the driver was kidnapping me and selling me to a slavery ring, but we at last got to Sola restaurant in the Northcenter area outside Chicago.  It was so calming and soothing, I was immediately happy to be there.  I had a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail with pomegranate and blood orange juice and ordered the chicken.  While the chef was preparing my chicken, my astonishingly attractive server brought me an amuse bouche of salmon tartare with a tiny sliver of cucumber and a dollop of truffle aioli.  Thankfully, the aioli was sparing, since I find the flavor so assertive.  A little goes a long way.  But I do love me an amuse bouche.  Then my chicken dish came out.  Good lord, it was AMAZING.  It had a soy lacquer, and it was served with large pearl couscous in a coconut curry sauce, and braised greens.  It was fully half a chicken, so the portion was enormous!  And stunningly good.  Sweet and salty, with crispy skin and soft couscous.  It really was one of the most delicious dishes I've ever had.  I couldn't finish it, unfortunately, and I was too stuffed to try dessert, but I will most definitely go back to Sola, even if it is an extremely long cab ride away.  At least it gave me time to tweet.  When I got back to the hotel, I could watch fireworks from my window!  It was a grand way to finish the evening...

Sunday, after the conference was over, I went with one co-worker to a bistro a friend of his had recommended, Bistrot Zinc.  It was adorable and very European.  I got the croque monsieur, which was DELICIOUS (and caused much envy at the tables around us), and then my co-worker and I shared some fruit with mascarpone cheese.  It was wonderfully light and sweet and the perfect ending to lunch.  Since we had eaten quite a bit, though, we decided to stroll a bit along Michigan Avenue.  When we got to the Hancock Tower, my co-worker remembered his friend suggested we go to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor and have a drink and see the amazing views.  So we did!  It was a lot of fun, with amazing sights (the view from the ladies room was incomparable!).  I was so glad I got to do one more touristy thing in Chicago before heading back to New York.
I also had one more meal before leaving Chicago proper - my boss took me to the hotel restaurant and I had a very yummy vegetable soup with pasta, and a less yummy dish of fettucine bolognese.  There was a monumental lack of seasoning in the pasta, which was unfortunate.  Oh, and when we got to the airport to fly home, I had a delicious breakfast torta at Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera in O'Hare.  Since it had been a few hours since my last meal, I had to fit in one more.  Oh, Chicago, how I'll miss visiting you and your delicious food every few months... 

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